Sunday,25 June, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)
Sunday,25 June, 2017
Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Ending nightmare exams

Reem Leila reports on the Ministry of Education’s new plans for the dreaded thanaweya amma

Ending nightmare exams
Ending nightmare exams

Every year the government announces its intention to reform the education system and every year little, if anything, is done. The curriculum remains as tortuous as ever and the thanaweya amma — the exam on which students’ university places depend — looms like a nightmare that will not go away.

Last week it was the turn of Minister of Education Tarek Shawki to announce his reforms and he had the thanaweya amma in his sights. He plans to replace the marathon exam with a process of continual assessment, similar to the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).

The new system, which will apply to students currently in the preparatory stage, abandons early specialisation in either the sciences or arts.

“It is totally illogical that just one or two years should determine the future of any student for good,” said Shawki, speaking at Education in Egypt Conference. He told attendees that final grades will in future be assessed as part of a cumulative process, taking into account students’ work over the preceding three years rather than everything depending on performance in a final exam.

“This way, students will be able to improve their grades each year on year rather than have a single chance to attain their goals,” said Shawki. He also revealed that the new secondary certificate will remain valid for five years rather than one year, which is currently the case, opening up the possibility of students taking gap years between school and university.

More controversially, higher education admission systems will be changed to allow universities to conduct their own testing of potential students prior to admission. It is a reform, say critics, which could open the doors to nepotism and bribery.

Reda Hegazi, head of the General Education Department at the Ministry of Education, says families with school age children are sick and tired of the thanaweya amma dominating their lives. The aim of the reforms, insists Hegazi, is to improve the country’s education system and make it more responsive to the needs of the market. “It is about time we had an educational system in place which is geared towards meeting the requirements of the development the country so desperately needs.”

Exam scores, says Hegazi, often fail to reflect students’ real abilities. High school students have become fixated on test results at a time when Egypt’s ranking in international education league tables has been in steady decline.

The focus on test results to the exclusion of coursework sees many students skip school to make time for home study and private classes. Yet Hegazi describes private lessons as “ruining many students”.

This year’s thanaweya amma exams, which will be sat by 589,388 students, are scheduled to begin on 4 June and last for 20 days, coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan which starts on 27 May.

Rabab Al-Mokadem, a housewife whose daughter is currently in the preparatory stage, is worried about what the changes will mean.

“I can’t understand how the new system is supposed to alleviate the burdens and stress we face. Now, instead of worrying for one year we will worry for three,” she says.

Al-Mokadem complains that the ministry has failed to explain in detail how the new system will be applied and worries that her daughter and her daughter’s classmates are being used to test the pros and cons of the new system.

University professor Dalia Hegazi argues that while the new system — certainly in outline — appears better than the current being enforced, giving “students more than one chance to improve their grades” it could also “increase financial burdens on parents”.

She says the Ministry of Education may have to come up with radical alternatives to private lessons if “parents are not to end up paying for three years’ worth in order that their children emerge from the system with high grades”.

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